Druis, Idris and Vidar

Druis, Idris and Vidar

“I tell you, there’s nothing here but me!”

“And I’m sure someone has taken liberties. It’s nothing particular, just something!”

Idris looked at Vidar, ” You’re always saying that!” he shook his head in resignation, ” I’ve been here all the time. Alone.   Stackin’ wood, sortin’ it for charcoal or tinder or logs.  Like you said.  And here you are, come back with the pony and you reckon someone’s been at it!  Well, it’s not me, nor anyone round here either!”

“Okay boy, keep it down. Whoever it was, I’ll find ’em.  I’ll sort it!”

“Will you load ‘im?”   Idris indicated the pony.

“No, it’s your turn.”

Idris managed to hold his tongue but compressed his lips and shook his head briefly, hoping Vidar wouldn’t notice. Luckily Vidar had already turned away, fingers raking through straggled beard as he peered once again around the coppice.

The pony was hoof-deep in the beck and picking at the cold water, the straps of the leather panniers over its back dangled down one side and drifted their free length in the current.  Vidar turned, hands on hips to watch the pony.  The birds, tight-clawed in the branches watched too.

Idris resigned himself to tying the faggots up before retrieving the now grazing pony to lash the bundles to its sides.  No easy job for one but as Vidar was prowling round looking for strangers that didn’t exist, Idris struggled with the job.

“Don’t you look at me like that!” Idris muttered as the pony’s head turned towards him, baleful eyes separated by a wide forehead covered in a fringe of mane that continued like a ragged curtain from the top of its neck almost down to hock. The rest of his body, except where flattened by the blanket then leather cloth to protect him from cuts from the branches was also covered in long horse hair, curled and coiled at his joints.   A winter coat that would soon need trimming, he hoped.

Vidar grunted a jump over the beck and rejoined Idris and lifted the other roped bundle with one hand, held it to the pony’s side while he quickly wrapped the dangling leash round it and hitched it around the two pommels at the front and repeated the action for the other two pommels, checking the carrier fitted tightly on the pony.

“Check the girth!”  Vidar said abruptly and moved to their overnight fire.  He spread the ash around as he checked it was out.

“As I always do.” Idris said very quietly under his breath.  The pony inflated his chest as Idris  bent to the girth, “You too eh?” And leaned against the pony’s side to unbalance it a little. The movement enabled him to feel the girth was tight enough to satisfy.  He stood and moved to ruffle the mane on the neck before sliding his fingers through the halter and down to where the bit fitted.

The pony twisted head, lips and jaw in an attempt to catch the fingers pressed into the side of his mouth, which Idris adroitly avoided as usual.  The bit rattled between the pony’s chewing teeth and it shook its head away again.

Vidar returned and checked the balance of the load again whilst conning around the clearing, still certain they had received an unknown visitor.  Still no obvious signs, just his feeling that the ambience of the trees and wild-life had subtly changed in his absence.

“Let’s go then.”  Vidar called to his brother who was busy collecting their belongings; bedrolls, pots and whetstones and twisting and tying them into bundles to hang from the shafts of their axes.    Vidar waited, took his axe and bundle and hooked the head over one shoulder with the bulky parcel resting on his back. Idris did similar, took the hanging rein of the pony and the trio started off.  All three of their loads swaying as they walked in step round the trees and thickets towards the track and in a hour or so, their farmstead.

“If the weather holds we can rope the logs and haul them tomorrow.”  Vidar spoke first as they stepped onto the main track.  “They’re  too big to lift onto the cart, might as well just drag them all the way.”

Vidar turned and looked back, certain he could feel eyes watching all their movement.  He saw nothing but felt a flicker between a clump of birch trees. Looked again and saw a shadow cast by the sun as it peered down on them from a break in the cloud.

If there was something there it was keeping itself secret and Vidar was fed up with chasing wisps of nymphs who should have known better.  They would be back tomorrow with the horses, maybe some spare time to find whoever it was, if they were still there.  His hackles would let him know.

Idris and the pony had continued so Vidar hurried to catch them up.  He lunged up the bank to the edge of the raised track and his foot was supposed to strike firmly onto a tussock. It failed and slid between two.  He stumbled, caught himself with one outstretched hand but lost his shoulder-load.  Swearing, he righted himself and bent to retrieve the axe and bundle.  As he did so he was sure he heard a girl’s laughter.  His hackles rose, there must be someone close. Vidar turned slowly and looked behind, breathed in through his nose to detect the slightest change in scents.

He saw nothing but the sunshine glancing off white birch.  His nose tingled slightly.  The laugh was short, joyous and young but the direction was unclear.  It was almost that he heard it in his head not through his ears.  “Mischievous nymph!”  He muttered in preference to swearing.

Vidar caught up with the swaying haunch and twitching tail of the pony as it picked its way along the uneven path . He squeezed passed the pony with its rhythmically swinging load, avoiding the waist high nettles at the side.  At the pony’s head he looked across at Idris.  Attention caught, Idris acknowledged the silent question with an exaggerated nod in the direction they were going. With a brief nod of thanks Vidar increased his pace towards their compound and his house.  He retained composure until out of sight then began to jog as fast as possible, hindered by the bundle he had to carry.  ‘Should have left it with the pony’, he muttered as it bounced uncomfortably on his shoulder.

‘Maybe you should have stayed at home!’  That voice giggled into his head again.   He felt a catch of panic. He, the calmest one in the world. Or so Vidar often convinced himself. He lived for the forest, his working with the timber, the frequent silence of the pine forest but here, in this mixture of  deciduous he was all too aware of the thrusting and fighting of the bird life amongst themselves not forgetting the creatures that paraded secretly in the undergrowth, not caring whether it was pine or beech as long as the ferns and brambles enabled them to blend.   He didn’t worry that he only caught fleeting glimpses of deer or rabbit.  Sometimes he would see a fox stock-still sniffing the air, maybe turning its head to acknowledge his presence. Then Vidar would feel the understanding of the fox at work, or ready for wasteful play. Empathy of a sort running through his own veins.  But this voice! The infectious sweet giggle was new in his head.

He pounded on.  The thump of feet on the compounded path was all he heard, his running had quieted the nearest birds.  Out of the thinned trees and for the final few yards of paddock he slowed to a walk.

Druis was kneeling in the herb garden loosening weeds and letting them collapse and dry in the sunshine.  She stood carefully, brushed her skirts clean of soil whilst watching the approaching Vidar.  Smiled, keeping her face towards him.

Vidar maintained his pace and relaxed, smiled in response to her.  His senses returning to normal as he approached the woman.  He reached the timber cabin and slipped the bundle casually from his shoulder and leaned the axe on the stoop.

Druis, bright eyed and smiling still, reached her man and took his brown hands in hers then touched his cheek and forehead as if smoothing away a crease of anxiety.  He lowered his head and felt the further relaxation of his body. Their foreheads met softly and his arm moved to her buttocks and pressed her to him.

She giggled and twisted aside. “Beer, then food. “ She said and skipped to the doorway where she stood. “But before!”  She nodded toward the edge of the trees, “ there’s Idris!”  and slid inside the house.

Vidar watched Idris and the pony walk towards the cabin on the raised pathway, offered a greeting as his brother led the pony to the stall at the side of the cabin.  He went to help unload the wide bundles of faggots from the pony’s sides and remove the saddlery and harness. Vidar was about to offer Idris food and drink when he was hugged by his brother and, ”Until tomorrow.  You need to be with that woman of yours.”  A couple of mutual shoulder slaps and Idris marched off to his family cabin at the end of the clearing.

So many times he had watched his brother walk away to the old house and had felt the pleasure of being alone again, at the edge of the forest.  For some years he had been chided for preferring his own company and the whispering of the trees as he worked.  But that had changed.  He had met the magical Druis in the forest’s grove of Lallam from where the beck leaped out of the limestone scarp.  She had brought a lightness to his life.   Entranced him, loved him that very first meeting and kept him company ever since. She kept their house, tended the garden and now carried their child.

Day by day, as her belly swelled, as the baby grew and moved, Druis would rest a little more and think of Vidar wandering, working, in their forest home.  As Druis sorted and filtered the recent memories with those of her forebears into storytelling dreams, she could almost feel her child moving in unison with those dreams, feel the gurgling laughter of her little daughter and those fluttering footsteps over the woodland trails where the stories would lead.  A secret she would love to share with Vidar.  Soon.

She waited.  Vidar pushed the door wide and heard the chuckling stream of laughter in his head before Druis beckoned him into her arms.  As her belly pushed into him she had to lean her head back slightly for their lips to meet.  She chuckled at the unbalancing position they were in and her voice mingled with the fragrant, childish laughter already in Vidar’s ears and running through their pressed bodies.

 

 

see also:  The Frinks

 

 

 

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A Graph Review of: A Quick Guide to Special Needs and Disabilities

A Graph Review of:   A Quick Guide to Special Needs and Disabilities

author:     Bob Bates         Sage Publishing    Nov 2016   charlie-and-dream-graph-50-56

Paperback        £19.99.       9781473 97974 1

 

A good quality guide and reference work offering information and positive action plus sensible points for further detailed follow-up.

Available via:  www.BooksEducation.co.uk.                 and other bookstores.

special needs and disabils coverAs the title says, here is a quick (reading) guide to  helping you be confident in recognising many disabilities and confirming those you know, in consistent, brief descriptions of the key elements to look for and techniques to help deal with in the classroom or other situations.   The author introduces the techniques as suggestions of methods that have been positive whilst pointing out that variations  as well as differing ones may  also be beneficial.   He quotes case studies of children and also several famous people who have been willing to open their ‘disabilities’ to view in order to show  it as part of their character and not always a draw-back when their positives can be engaged; that no-one should be defined purely by the difficulties they have to overcome.

As usual there is an index; plus a note on the author and a useful glossary at the start followed by a few pages on how to ‘use the book’.   The book itself is in four sections, the main one being the brief descriptions followed by key support strategies of 65 areas of special needs of varying physical, mental and social areas.  With suggested text or web sites for additional follow-up.

The final section is related to strategies for children, parents, teachers and SENCOs and a basic run-through of various therapies that are currently found to be effective. Throughout and as a final thought, the author says how aware he is that there is much more available on these and more ‘needs’ that could not be included in the book.

I am not going to list the inclusions but note the wide ranging from first: ‘Allergies’ to the final  ‘Young Offender’.  Again the author, Bob Bates, makes the comment that the pointers and strategies are frequently as applicable to adults as young or older children.  His view, as are many others: that the strategies should fit the ‘child’.

Initially I found the use of double-page spread confusing where a new subject started mid-page and you had to recognise that the heavy, broken line across the two open pages was a boundary marker for change of subject.  This is a signal to stop at the broken line on the left-hand page and switch back to the top of the right page and read down again to the broken line.  Reaching that is the end of the subject and you switch back to the right-hand page below the broken line and repeat moving across to below the broken line on right-hand page again.

Maybe I should not have written this comment; it reads worse than it actually is.  However, it did annoy me a little.  Maybe the format of the book needed this design, or for me, maybe not.

Despite this anomaly in design, the content seems remarkably clear, useful and positive as  starting points in so many differing situations.  A useful book that is extremely readable and easy to dip into or refer to whenever the need arises.

writing: the first sentence:

First line:

I know the struggle between advice and your own idea can be like warfare when looking at a blank page.

“The first few words of any writing establishes the tone of the work and its narrative stance”………likely but no gaurantees

“The length of the first sentence is a good gauge of the authors style”…… pretty fair comment.

“The first sentence will hook the reader into the story”………………….ummmm!    It will encourage you to read-on but the first few paragraphs, maybe pages, are needed to convince the reader to stay loyal.    Anyway, writer’s formula or no, it is still the reader that makes the ultimate decision to continue…… or abandon at any stage……

“Readers:  Some you win, some you lose.”

For me the actual process of writing is a cross between having a starting point and an inkling of direction but no real address to end up at; or the opposite in having a final point of disclosure with an annoying twist at the end; but the who and how is a mystery.

The nub for me, start or finish, is a caught word or phrase eavesdropped, ideally from a stranger.   As characters emerge, their voices establishing who they are and indeed where they are enables a story to flow.  Like the proverbial story of a spring of water  finding its way to the sea; you may find attachments and sub-stories, information falling like rain and ideas flooding or suddenly soaking away into nothing.

The first enthusiasm of scratching paper should not be daunting or carved into stone.    This is where basic ideas, plots and characters start to fill the mind rather than just the page.  If complicated it may be time to consider an outline plot:  basic datelines and possibly a ‘hinge’ sentence that has established itself.  Draw a ‘mind-map’.    The noting of key characters and establishing names.   Names to me, like shoes to an actor, establish the character.  Not that the name conforms to a type or any of that old stuff but having a few key people sitting in your mind, on your shoulder, as you write about them builds their reality and it is you that have the important work of making them as alive to the reader as they are to you.

When do you actually write the ‘starting’ sentence that may define your work ?   The lines by which your work lives or dies?

Whenever you like!      But you have to consider it a hook to catch a reader’s interest.  I suppose it should be relevant to the storyline  and likely to resonate sooner rather than later; like a poem that has echoes throughout a series of stanzas, or the nail-biting end of a soap, to be continued; a chapter in the latest thriller or the now ubiquitous series of films.   People are mostly designed to want answers, look for patterns and signs.  It is authors that have the authority to provide those trails no matter what the subject.  To offer a footpath, small or otherwise, to the conclusion.    And that conclusion may well be inconclusive!

If you listen to different authors (actually I first used the word ‘writers’ but  ‘authors’ seems to raise the stakes a little!) who are widely published they will point out the way they start writing.; where research and plot take them and if they construct a chapter-plan or character-chart, or none.  The options are really as many as there are authors and what they offer is in fact proof that the ‘writer’ writes in their most effective manner.  Effective may well be the least efficient but practice and time usually builds technique.

So, are we any closer to a first sentence?     It may well be the last one you write……..in that particular genre/style/article/novel etc. etc……. not ever…….if you are a writer you will be unable to stop.        It is your responsibility to decide!

Ideally you will be your own editor and eventually find the right words for your work, be it short-story through to a never-ending saga, which will satisfy your belief in your work.   Length cannot be defined, nor words describe a style but confidence in yourself is required.

Of course you may be totally wrong!  Despite previous success/es, creative-courses or even text compilers(!!), only actual success and time will prove.   Read, re-read and edit, ask friends to comment but build on comment positively.

Once upon a time publisher’s editors would  “grammatise” and rewrite wherever required to enhance the book sales, unless the author was prestigious, grammatical or of James Joyce in style and status.  Today an author may be more averse to such alterations.   BUT, do listen to advice if offered.

That first sentence?  Assorted authors have said that to start writing you need a blank sheet of paper and to start writing a word:  and another and another.   It may not matter what the words are though perhaps they should be different.  Eventually your  ‘first sentence’ will appear.          If not?   That is another page and we will not accept it here.

This screed may not have helped very much except to proffer that it is you, the ‘author’, that has to make the final decision on that elusive snake: the first sentence.

 

Notes from Whittlestreet Crime Writer’s Circle

The Magazine Story

 

“……… And that, dear reader, was the beginning of the beginning!………”

 

The magazine made a lazy scrunching noise as I screwed it up then tossed it to the other end of the settee.  Even more annoying was it sliding off the cushion and onto the dog’s back. From a mildly twitching sleep she jumped onto all four legs before looking round and down at the runkled pages lying where she had been.  A baleful, accusing, look at me and she collapsed again with all four legs splayed out, snout flat on the floor and a heavy sigh. That was it!

Wouldn’t you have expected more of a reaction?  Not that the magazine was heavy, maybe the equivalent of a stiff pillow landing on your back when you are fast asleep  but even then the shock ought to be more than a look and a disappointed sigh.

Mind, I never got worse than that when the phone rang and I had to get up and go out, leaving the wife, when we should have been in bed playing about!    I suppose I should say ‘having sex’ but I always was old-fashioned.  Yes, I got too used to a look and a sigh.  So did she, I suppose, watching me leave in the middle of the night.  It got too regular.  Me always going rather than coming.

Then it did get worse.  She left.  I got home at ten in the morning after an extended shift all night.  A messy GBH, bit of a chase and then the interview and write-up.  By then I had been awake over twenty four hours and managed to say ‘hello’ before hauling myself upstairs and collapsing on the bed.   She called ‘Bye, I’m leaving’ up the stairs.  I didn’t even hear the door close.

You guessed it!  She was gone.  I woke mid-afternoon, stiff as a board, with the dog doing its deer-hound impression in a desperate attempt to get someone to open the door to get out.  Eventually I twigged and scrambled down to open the garden door.  Even more eventually I saw the note leaning against the kettle.   A very small scrap of paper with just one line written on it, the last word squeezed in and nearly falling over the edge.   I read it as I waited for the kettle to boil.    What do you do?     I read it again.  So short a note and no ifs or buts; gone!

All the emotions you would expect filtered through me, I won’t actually say them, use your imagination!  The problem was that I was due on shift again in three hours and still had a dog dropping toys at my feet trying to entice me into the garden to play.    It was okay for the dog having just relieved itself; it took no notice of my predicament.  Mind you it hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that I was now it’s benefactor.    It would have been more worried if it had realised sooner.

I read the brief one-line letter again.  You really ought to say more than ‘I’m leaving and won’t be back’, and that written on a torn-off strip two inches high.  Maybe that’s what I deserve.  We never had much quiet time.  Had!  Work eats into your life and there’s no life left!

I spent the next hour drinking more mugs of tea than I should, sliced some cheese, made some toast and broke it into a cheese sandwich.   The dog.  Can’t leave the dog all night on its own, haven’t even taken it for a walk.    Sod it!

I brushed the crumbs off my shirt, realised I was still in the same clothes I put on thirty-six-odd hours ago and looked at the phone. I didn’t dare ring her mobile.  I think I smelled of my own sweat, maybe the smell from the victims vomit hung around me too. The dog dropped the toy at my feet yet again and pleaded, eye to eye with me.

Resolutely I moved to the phone and rang the Station. We don’t have such a thing as HR just the Duty Sargent.  I rang him, spoke with a bit of a hitch in my voice and just garbled that the wife had walked out and I had to look after the dog until I could sort something out.

I relented over the dog and went into the garden.  It followed, pushed its way past me at the door and collapsed by the wall of the yard; looked at me from its prone position, eyes flickering between me and the ball it had let dribble out of its mouth.    We played for a few minutes.  I threw the ball onto a paving slab for it to bounce onto and off the yard wall at an angle for the dog to jump overly-excitedly and catch it.  Thud, bonk, scrabble.  Thud, bonk, scrabble.  And a third time.  Fourth time the dog just watched as the ball rebounded and bounced mildly on the slabs to a stop.    She sat on her haunches, looked at the ball and up at me.  A quick stick-out of her tongue and strolled back indoors.  Typical!

So, another satisfied customer.   At least it didn’t involve projectile vomit or handcuffs this time.

I followed the dog.

Back indoors, shift cancelled, dog played with, I had eaten; nothing for it but to watch television for an hour or maybe get the whisky bottle.  I should have gone to work.   No time to think there.   Always doing something even if only gossiping or catching up with ongoing crime.   Sorry, should call them cases these days, they are not crimes until CPS tells us to proceed and that only happens if all forensics are there; and on and on.  Even when they put their hands up it still has to hang around getting the paperwork certified.

I sat there like that.  Thinking.   Soaps were on, I couldn’t watch them without the wife being there.  They were her favourites, I usually just sat and half-watched.  That was good enough to follow the storylines until the police programmes at nine o’clock.    I stopped thinking and watched the dog wash its arse yet again.  That reminded me I still hadn’t showered but I couldn’t be bothered.  ‘Still too tired’ I thought to myself but knew it was more than that.

Maybe I was working too hard, rather, too often.  But there is always work to catch up, thieves or whatever’s to chase and officers off sick to cover for.  I can understand when they get hurt, that’s often enough, but all the buggers that claim tension or depression get my goat.  They should get up off their backsides and back on the job.  I do.  I work day after day, or rather night after night getting covered in sick or kicked or somesuch just like the others.  You put on a brave face, pretend to smile even if you haven’t slept a wink for days.   You have to be nice to the public,  positive with colleagues, always watching their back, your back.  My back!  What would it matter anyway.  There’s always some other sodding policeman to step in the gap when your down.

When I’m down?  I’m always down, always working, always angry or tired.   Both.   Poor girl, all she’s got for company is the bloody dog.   Looking at you all the time, trying to tell you something.  Always wants to be sitting beside you, head on your lap and pleading for sympathy.   Sympathy?   Who needs sympathy when you have to get up and be assaulted in the streets because you wear a uniform.   Stick to it.  Forget what the gov. says, and the doctors.  And look at today.  What am I worth?  A torn-off scrap of paper with not even a goodbye, just ‘I’m leaving’ .

It couldn’t be worse!  What happens now?  Self-pity is what I call it.  Depression they said but I don’t hold with it.

I sat there and saw the television screen glaze over and heard voices mangled.

Okay, I picked up the magazine, found the shortest story I could and forced myself to read it.

“One page:  cozy, girlie chat in a cafe. My goodness, where do they dig up these short stories!

It started off badly, surprise surprise! And then it frayed me at the edges as they started realising they were two peas in a pod, or some such rubbish and actually liked all the same stuff.   Within two thousand words they had moved from enemies to bosom-buddies about to house-share because of their mutual two-timing boyfriend!”

That’s how it finished; with the ‘beginning of the beginning….’.   And I crumbled the magazine and threw it and it fell onto the dog.    Okay, I admit it now, I sat there, misty-eyed, watching the dog settle again with its huge sigh.  I sat there.  Sat there.   Sat there in the now dark room for however long.

I never heard the front door open, no click disturbed my darkness.   A familiar hand ruffled my hair, a quick kiss on my balding spot.

“Hello love, shouldn’t you be at work?”

“I thought I would keep the dog company.”  I didn’t dare move or imagine, just fiddled with the note she had left me.   Folded it into a narrow strip and then again while she went upstairs.  Maybe to pack another bag?    I unfolded the note, flattened it on my knee.    I heard the toilet flush, tap run and then her feet on the stairs as I looked down at that unforgiving note.

..’..until really late, sorry, love you lots!’

She came into the room, ” I had to go and see Carol, she’s so upset! That husband of hers has left her.  It’s so good to get back here”. She sat heavily beside me, snuggled closer and grabbed my hand holding the note.

“Sorry it was on a scrappy piece,” she waved the hand she held, that held the note,  “it was the first bit I found in the drawer and I was in an awful rush, only just room even on both sides.”

The dog, intrigued by the waving hands with the fluttering piece of paper actually moved to sit in front of us and swayed her head sideways in its rhythm.  To me, she was shaking it in a,  “I told you not to panic”, mode.

I gently squeezed the hand that supported mine.

 

 

 

tags:  Burnthorpe

 

 

Too Afraid to Cry: Windham Campbell Prize 2017

Too Afraid to Cry;     A memoir in prose and verse    

by     Ali Cobby Eckermann

Published by Ilura Press.

978 192132524 3         Paperback

Recently announced as a  winner of the Australian 2017 Windham Campbell prize for poetry.

Each year two prize winners in each category of poetry, drama, fiction and non-fiction;  in its fifth year each winner receives US$165,000.

Link:   www.windhamcampbell.org.

A Graph Review:  average of 70 all through with touches of more for emotional connections!

A memoir but listed as poetry.

She has five other collections of poetry in print.

the book is series of prose sketches from the early childhood of Ali Cobby Eckermann interspersed with almost haunted verse and through teenage to adulthood and closing with a celebration of family.  As an aboriginal baby she was among the many forcibly taken from her mother soon after birth as part of Australian social policy of the time. She was adopted into a German Lutheran farming family with children, where she was loved, as was another adopted child.

However  with growing awareness of being different in a family of differing skin tones, and being subjected to various levels of abuses outside the family situation she developed assorted emotional problems and addictions as she grew to adulthood.   Her writing is beautifully simple, descriptive and at times lyrical yet often fearsomely matter-of-fact.  By jumping from scene to scene we watch the events through her eyes and begin to be informed of the abuses she suffers and the complications they set in train.  Time and tensions move on. Throughout she does maintain some friendships and family albeit tenuously at times.

The poem ‘Black‘  offers a step-change affirming her ‘Self’.   Returning to the brief ‘chapters’  of prose, where life goes on and bullying is amplified, she finds a form of relief in friendships with other adopted and non-adopted indigenous people and families but with an evermore self-destructive life style.  Her writing style throughout continues as simple and matter-of-fact in telling her tale.

Maybe at her lowest point in the story, halfway-ish through the book, there is a subtle change in outlook.  She reports, still concisely, of feeling connections with ‘the earth’, elements of scenery around her and of a bigger emotion as the landscape expands into the wilderness she travels through. Perhaps a degree of comfort from the expanse and lifestyle.  Reading this section, of her growing awareness, created a surprising feeling of empathy on that connection.  From here the style of blunt and non-critical writing continues while her life improves and collapses episodically.

The writer begins to describe scenery as it infiltrates into her.  She is, almost unknowingly, absorbing her heritage of ageless culture and wisdom.   A smooth and subtle change while her language is still beautifully simple.  (I say simple.  I suppose I really mean excised of all unnecessary words.  If only I could write like that!!)

Blame is never considered by Ali but the reader surely can.  The story may read as a philosophy of: ‘life happens’ but the reasons why need to be addressed, especially the ‘happenings’ of now.  They may have been but Social Engineering for good or ill does have serious consequences in countless forms, mostly, it seems against women and children.   There, I’ve gone off-track and have only the direct result of reading this book to thank.   Yes, it is of a specific person but many aspects of her story are not only of the indigenous Australian but should resonate around the world in support of all who are nudged or beaten to the peripheries of society.

Ultimately this is a personal story of a baby, a child growing into adulthood and surviving a system of abuse and almost self-destruction to discover herself, her blood family, heritage and her own landscape.  A woman who has finally become whole.     Ali Cobby Eckermann’s book deserves international recognition.

This is one to recommend to all your friends and everyone else.

Little Sparrows

Madelie suddenly realised she must be feeling better.  Or rather, on consideration, as she was singing along with the radio, happier.  She could feel herself jiggling with the music as she peered into the wardrobe and ran her fingers along the shoulders of the hangers and their draped clothes.

“This little piggy went to market……” as she twisted the cream and chocolate crimplene dress for a fuller view before moving on, “This little piggy stayed at home……..”. As she moved on to a purple square-necked cotton shift, briefly, before alighting on the orange trouser-suit and with a “wee, wee, wee” deftly unhooked the hanger and settled the suit smoothly on the bed.    A simple white-collared blouse followed though she had more difficulty over a choice of tie.  Three were laid over the orange jacket in the hope that one claimed her attention most.

Pleased at making these decisions she looked out of the window through the large-patterned net and at the sun creeping above the houses opposite.  The chimneys drew black shadows along the terrace of sloping slate roofs and the nearest added the skinny shadows of the television aerials.

Maybe it was the rising sunshine that had lifted her above that black line in her mind under which she had been hiding for so long.  Hiding?  Yes, she had been hiding, it felt like it.  But what from?

She folded her arms and took a step closer to the glass and saw some sparrows dipping into the gutter opposite, reappearing with tufts of lichen then disappearing in a flurry of wings.

She looked down at the thin red streaks on the inside of her left arm, just below the elbow.  Stared out of the window again and lowered her folded arms a little, hugged them tighter to her ribs so her breast hid the marks.  The sparrows returned and busily tussled in the guttering and flew off again as each grabbed some packing for a nest.

Madelie had almost lost that sunshine moment but breathed it in again as a cloud shifted in the breeze and a shaft of sunlight hit her eyes making her turn away from it.   The movement brought the radio back into focus and “didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we went to Bangor!” made her smile again and back to dressing.

Fresh underwear stepped into,  bra settled into and hooks briefly struggled  with.  Sitting on the edge of the bed she folded first one leg of the tights over her hand then her toes into the toe of the nylon and unwound it over her foot to knee then repeated the operation before standing and adjusting the ridged waist-seam up to her hips.  Finally checking, straightening and smoothing the whole legs.   On the whole, she thought, tights were more comfortable than stockings, unless you snagged a leg, got a hole, then you had to bin the lot.  With stockings you stood a chance of having  a spare that matched.

Next was the blouse. Still smooth from being ironed though not that slightly crisp feel had it been freshly ironed.  Definitely not warm like straight off the ironing board!   She bent her head to watch her fingers button the blouse from top to bottom and brush away imaginary creases.

The radio chattered, early morning, bright and breezy cajoling from the ‘dj’ before another record, “now it’s time for ‘Mott the Hoople’ ” and the music slid into her head again.

Foot and leg, slight wobble, other foot and leg and she drew the orange trousers up high and adjusted her hip so she could pull the side-zip up then hook-and-eye the waist-tab securely.

She looked down at her flame-orange legs and indecision crept in. “Too bright?”  She had been a shabby dresser for so long that this was a dramatic step too far, she feared, briefly.

“No,” she said  aloud, “I’ll match the sunshine!”  And she turned to decide on the tie.

End over, hand over, round and under and through, eventually she got the rhythm and directions right and looked at herself in the mirror again to adjust the tie.   It was one of the newest style. Narrow Italian silk and design of bright horizontal bars of colour that eventually repeated after a scattering of red, white, green, yellow, orange, blue.

After a final easing the knot at her neck and removal of a defiant piece of fluff from her trousers she    Retrieved the jacket from the bed and eased into and buttoned it. Looked in the mirror and undid the buttons. More satisfied this time she left the room, grabbed her bag, checked for keys then rushed out of the little flat to try to gather some lost time.

Her rushing from the door down the short path and turning to briefly jog into town flushed the sparrows out of the hedge whisked them back up to the guttering in a series of squawks. Within a few steps Madelie slowed to a brisk walk and the sparrows had drifted back into the comfort of the hedge.

Walter didn’t recognise Madelie.

“Hi! Mr policeman.”

“Mornin’ …….”. No more than a word and a half-raised arm as the woman in the orange trouser.-suit walked smartly passed him. He watched the brightly coloured figure swinging away from him, her short black hair sculpted to her head. She turned the corner but he failed to recognise the side-on figure and features as she moved out of view.   He thought no more about it and went back to running his eyes around the street.  “Being observant” his sergeant called it.  So he continued walking, enjoying the sun warming the fresh morning with his people-watching and eaves-dropping on his way to a tea-break in a local cafe.

He too turned the corner, stopped briefly to click his radio and let the control room know he was having his break before turning the speakers volume down to a less startling level and entering his usual cafe.  The man behind the counter called a greeting and promised to bring the tea and sandwich to Walter, as usual.

“Thanks,” he called out and looked to his seat at the window.  The girl in the orange suit  was at his table in the window and he hesitated to go there.   She smiled at him, waved him to her and then he recognised her as Madelie, one of the irregular customers at the Jolly Puritan pub.  She used to sit near him, out of the way of the more effusive drinkers and darts players but more recently perched on a bar-stool and chatted with Angel working behind the bar.

“I didn’t recognise you.” He said, sitting opposite.  Her coffee was delivered and “I’ll bring your tea and sarnie” said to Walter by the man before he dashed back behind the counter to the kitchen.

“Good.” She said decisively to Walter. “I decided to change my wardrobe like I’m changing my outlook.”

“You mean from drab beatnik to flower-power girl?”  he meant it as a compliment but she looked at him blankly, stopped the grin before it appeared at his somewhat behind-the-times remark.

Madelie smiled inwardly as she forgave his comment.   “Not so much that. More that I decided I should try the happy, smiley person in me instead of miserable and mopey.  I woke-up this morning and today I changed into a brighter me.”

“You can say that again.”  He said. “In the pub you match all the shadows, dressed in that orange you can be seen for miles.”  Walter felt it lacked a complimentary feel so added, “You look great!”

Silence as his tea and sandwich were placed on the table.

Embarrassed, he took to stirring his tea then gave attention to his bacon sandwich while Madelie looked outside and watched the pigeons, no they were doves, trailing along the kerb bumping each other as they chased invisible crumbs.

“I’m just here for a quick breakfast break.” He spoke to break the silence.

She turned back to Walter and felt again how reassuring she found his presence with his solid form, especially in the safe police-uniform and his not unattractive face. He had let his hair get a bit longer since she had seen him, more over his ears than tightly shaved round them. Even his side-burns had been allowed to grow, she noticed.  Madalie surprised herself by thinking he looked much more fun now than when he had walked her home after the night in the Jolly Puritan. “Perhaps he has decided to go for flower-power!” She smiled briefly at this thought, echoing his out-moded imaging.

Walter caught her smile and passed one back, which they both held as their eyes also smiled to each other.    He broke away first, taking the serviette and wiping at the grease on his fingers. Not completely successful he shook his head sadly and took out his handkerchief to wipe a finger. He was relieved it was a clean one, if she actually noticed!   He quickly stuck it back in his pocket.

The young woman watched him over her coffee cup and sipped at it as he looked back at her.

“Time for me to go. I think of this as fifteen minutes community work as well as breakfast, you know.”   He stood and picked his helmet off the floor and adjusted it straight and strap tucked neatly under his chin.

“I didn’t realise I was your social work” she smiled up at him.

“No, no, that’s not what I meant” concerned he leaned on the table, prepared to sit and explain.

Madelie stopped him with a hand put on his, “I was joking,” she said up to him, “Its nice to see you.

Let’s talk in the pub next time. We can put the juke-box on and annoy them with the Stones or Bob Dylan.  They’ll all ignore us then.”

He relaxed a little. She moved her hand off his.

“Yes, that would be great. See you at the end of the week. My shifts change Thursday so, Friday then?”

“It’s a date!”

He nodded, “See you, then. Bye.”   Did she mean a date? As in date?  He paid for his meal, gave her a surreptitious wave as he walked passed her to the door.  Outside, as he walked on she returned the wave.  The two ring-doves hopped and flapped a few yards away at the policeman’s sudden appearance then settled to strutting and pecking again as he proceeded on his beat.

Madelie had suggested the meeting in the pub on a bit of a whim.  She often saw him at the pub, sometimes sat next to him but they rarely chatted except when it was a quiz or darts night.  On the latter it was more a shout than chat to get any words over the clamour of the players.

More recently she had perched herself on a chair at the bar when Angel was working.  At least  they could talk in the quieter moments.  Angel had become such a good friend. ‘Actually’, Madelie admitted to herself, ‘Angel helped me climb out of the black, lonely hole I was in.’

She went to the counter, purse in hand but, “The copper paid for yours too” added another little shaft of sunlight to her day.

The day breezed along as sunnily as it had started.  Working in a shop kept her busy. Meeting and greeting customers was sometimes daunting but often it was young women around her age and younger that were easiest to talk with.  The best parts was when she was able to help them chose from the new dresses that blossomed round the shop. Mary Quant was on everybody’s lips and bodies, for that matter.

At lunch-time several clutches of noisy girls came to rush their break in the dress-shop in preference to eating.   The newest and brightest dresses hung from the current mannequins on the staging in the windows. One or two models scattered on plinths next to the rack of special design or label, their backs to the rack where the carefully crafted pinning would be undetected down the back of the dress.  From the the front the nipping gave a glowing elegance to the dress despite the vacant chalk eyes and bald head.   Along one of the back walls stood the older models covered in pinafore and printed cotton. Large flowers or blocks of Parisian street scenes flowing down to the shins but failing to detract from the armless and headless upper reaches of the model.

The girls would come and go as individuals, the door opening and ringing the bell like an old bed-ridden aunt who is necessarily impatient for attention. Repeating as the door closed. In a small town most people grow-up together, young newcomers often getting whirled up with new friends.  Leaving school and first jobs means catch-up time when they meet and where better than a dress shop full of the latest, brightest and shortest clothes?

Labels, nippy copies. Bright colours and acid designs. Boucle with its softness and crimplene galore with its myriad of colours and prints.  Mary Quant held apart from Biba, or gingham versus Mondrian next to touches of Monet and Picasso.  The whole shop could echo with giggles and gossip as they dared each other to the lowest V or most showy thigh.  Pleated skirts that flew as they moved or denim that hugged and pleaded with outrageous zips.  Sometimes one would be dared too far and she would buy and hug the bag excitedly with an “I’ll wear at the next party!”  Or “I darent show my dad nor my mum for that matter” even a “Roy won’t know what hit ‘im.  I will have to keep me knees tight” and many variations on the theme.

Lunch time passes and the flocks of chattering girls drift away.

Madelie’s day moves along too and the early morning lady swaps brief notes and gossip with the replacement afternoon assistant.  Madelie, working a middle shift, as it were, makes them all a mug of tea, including the owner who arrives, chauffeured by her son in his new car.  He calls them all outside to coo over his vermillion, open top, Austin Healey Sprite.   “Best car I’ve ever had,” he chirps, “mind you I nearly got the new Mini but I was too cramped driving. This one’s only a two-seater but there’s more room.”

“He forgot to say his old car was a Ford Anglia!”  Said his mother. “He only got this to annoy me; and attract the girls.”

“Right on both counts.” He responded, “Can I take you home, mrs Emersby?” and opened the door for her.  She got in with a little difficulty, hoicking her skirt up higher than intended and trying to pull the hem over her knees after sitting down; failing and resigning herself to seeing her knees within worrying closeness to the gear leaver as he curled himself back into the drivers seat.

She started to wave but gripped the edge of the door as he lurched away.  He flung a ‘sorry!’ her way as he changed gear and they dashed off, the remaining women turned back to the shop.

“I must say, you’ve taken to brighter colours like a duck to water.”  Madelie was appraised by the owner as they stood behind the small counter. “And you make a fine mug of tea.” She took a mouthful and spoke again, a tender tone replacing the jocular, “And you’re smiling a lot more.”

Madelie took a slow sip from her mug and considered.  She watched as a couple hesitated outside, the girl quickly studied the mannequin’s dresses in the window, pointed at one and was ushered away by the young man at her side.  After a few steps she stopped, he stopped and shrugged as she pushed through the door. She moved for a closer look at the dress and he found a nearby lamppost to lean on and watch the traffic flow while he waited.

“Yes,” said Madelie, I do smile more. I suppose one smile just brings on another.” She turned and looked at the older woman. “Thanks.”

No need to recall the darker days of the last few months.  She had turned a corner and realised that music was still playing and new friends were better than the old.  She still missed the black jumper and cardigan and one day she would even dig them out.  Perhaps that little Chinese lady had been right!  Even the policemen were nicer these days.  She put her mug down.

“I had better get on and change these ladies.”   And proceeded to select the new blouses and jumpers for the assorted torsos around the shop walls.

…………..

PC Walter Copper’s day had proceeded in a similarly innocuous way.  He paced his way along his beat, stopping, chatting and observing and by lunchtime had worked his way back to the station.  A quick lunch break in the canteen and then a short time filling in his day-sheet, wishing he had more than a couple of memos in his pocket-book.  No actions other than a brief companionable chat with old Joe the tramp and a brief word on the time of day with several of the old chaps sitting outside on a bench sunning themselves.   A smile and cheery greeting from Winnie the new WPC at the station as they passed; he off home and she arriving for the evening shift.  He cycling, she walking.

A few minutes later and he was wheeling his bike to his front path and the shed at the side where it stood.  He tried to shut the low gate by leaning sideways whilst holding the bicycle saddle to keep himself and bike more or less upright. Just reaching, he pushed the gate and it crashed on its post and latch before catching on its rebound.  The noise of the clash scattered a ribbon of shouting sparrows out of the hedge and into the tree of the neighbour’s garden.

“Sorry spadgers,” he muttered, regained his balance and pushed on to park his bike and go indoors.

The house was sadly quiet as he sat to wait for the kettle to boil.  It took a long time for the water to bubble and the steam to build up enough pressure to push through the whistle on the wide spout.

He sat watching the kettle, knowing he shouldn’t.

“That’s another day without a story to tell.” he thought, “Except maybe the sparrows.”

 

 

Burnthorpe,  Madelie Carew,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coping with Crisis: A Graph Review

Coping with crisis:   Learning lessons from accidents in the early years

by          Bernadine Laverty & Catherine Reay

charlie-and-dream-graph-50-56

A Graph Review : good consistent level of information and style:  50-56

 

coping-with-crisisFeatherstone (Bloomsbury) publication,  2016        paperback   £18.99

9781472917287       177pp,

Includes diagrams, many useful links and index.

The coverage is defined as for ‘all staff working with children in settings registered on the Early Years Register and the Childcare Register’.     The focus is on real accidents and situations and looks at what went wrong to try to eliminate its causes. Their is also considerable information and advice on the regulations on safety and reporting of accidents.

Basic development of babies and young children are listed.  Descriptions of real accidents are given throughout the different subject areas and consequences. Each Followed by a ‘Back to the team’ checklist that offers needs and actions under the headings of: Plan, Do, Check, Act.     Different ‘accidents’ have differing suggestions for each heading as basic examples.  If these are used as initial safety checklists then additional action points could be included to cover such as details required by contractors, information/ notices for staff, parents and so on.   The importance of assessing and providing safe environments should be a continual part of all staff training as well as a key person. Safety is a priority but so is reflection after difficult events.

The thoroughness and concern of the authors speaks volumes as they highlight each example of accident with additional known children who have suffered.  They also point out that gathering full statistics was not feasible at the time as reporting level was a variable regulation in parts, e.g. Visitors.  Ideal for small units and individuals as well as growing or bigger ‘units’.  The age and range covers childcare, nursery, reception class but not apparently much older. The child’s abilities and reactions my change in age but the thinking behind the checklists is still relevant as they move up in Primary years. Indeed the range of  ‘crisis-management’  expands rapidly as children move into years five and six upwards. This book may still be a good starting point as reference for new staff with its attitude to reflective practice and use of guidelines while attendance to more medical courses will add the extra dimensions required.

A short section of ‘Key points’ is available as well as ‘On Reflection’ which covers areas to be considered after any accident.  One area that seems to consistently appear is on parental information given on such as the ‘inquisitiveness’ or  physical ability, allergies and so on that should be noted and known by all staff.  This is where the checklists provided can give a solid start to the thinking process required to improve any failings in equipment or procedures, including training.

The book covers many aspects on accidents: with equipment, scolds and burns, trapped fingers, choking, falls, infections, and others, even near-misses.     This review may make it seem the book itself highlights all the dangers and is just depressing and off-putting.   Well, partially, but in the real world accidents do happen no matter where children are and this book may well be the first to highlight the rules and regulations of safety and reporting of accidents in Early Years settings.

And positively to offer systems to pre-empt accidents as far as possible and to minimise failings in all areas.  Being prepared is what it is all about because we all know that in the best of circumstances accidents still happen1

for books and prices:   www.BooksEducation.co.uk     

subject:  education